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Rally in Ontario: Our Vote is a Health Care Vote

[[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”1616″,”attributes”:{“class”:”media-image alignnone size-medium wp-image-10467″,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”style”:””,”width”:”170″,”height”:”240″,”alt”:””}}]]Yesterday morning I started my day driving through the beautiful Kawartha Lakes to the Peterborough Canoe Museum where I met with dozens of passionate health care advocates and the ever lively Raging Grannies and Grumpy Grampies. The Grannies sang us off (with “Oh medicare, the promise of a plan, care for everyone, all across our land…”) as we boarded the bus and headed out of Peterborough towards Toronto.

Just before noon, we arrived in Queen’s Park, Toronto, where hundreds of people were gathering to demonstrate their commitment to health care. The Ontario Health Coalition (OHC) organized a wonderful event full of music and impassioned speakers. Among the many notable speakers was Sid Ryan, representatives from the McGuinty and Hudak governments (although invited, there were no speakers from the NDP), and students for medicare, to just name a few.

The rally began with live music and bus after bus rolling onto Queen’s Park and dropping off full loads of people.

After our initial mingling we were off to march up and down University Avenue which was lined with health care professionals waving signs and supporting public health care. Our incredible Ontario-Quebec-Nunavut Regional Organizer Mark Calzavara (and no he didn’t pay me to say that) built a phenomenal 10-foot float of a very injured patient in a bed with the words “I vote” painted on his leg. A sound system was cleverly hidden in the bed and it played the voice mail messages that our Ontario members left for us.

There were television crews, journalists, reporters, activists, and ordinary citizens stopping to take pictures and join in the march. While the message was serious, the march was friendly and fun. We found several of our wonderful Council activists waving the yellow banner and offering to help push and pull our float through the streets.

When we returned to Queen’s Park we heard speakers’ talk about some of the big problems facing health care today. One speaker made his message about the Ontario candidates’ platform. He called their commitments to health care “fluff”. 

A representative from Hudak’s Conservative campaign spoke and the crowd was pretty displeased, booing the speaker and making mention that many of the cuts she spoke about to health care occurred under the previous Ontario Conservative government (Mike Harris).

McGuinty wasn’t safe from criticism either. People shouted “hey hey ho ho , McGuinty’s got to go”. Many others held signs about health care cuts under McGuinty. I sat with nurses on the bus to Toronto and they talked about their concerns with the shortage of health care professionals (they were nurses) and that 200 nurses were recently laid off, while others are still struggling to provide patients with enough support.

Not many messages were targeted at the NDP government. And there was no representative at the rally for people to make their comments to. It was very disappointing.

We had speakers share stories of their loved ones’ terrible experiences with the health care system. I took note of one woman in the crowd holding a sign about the tragic C. difficile deaths in the Niagara region.

Another speaker talked about the need for community health clinics and doing away with the LHIN system.  A few of our voice mail messages also carried this message.

I had the opportunity to address the crowd as well and I spoke about the messages so many of you sent to me: more and affordable long term care facilities, accessible home care, pharmacare, the need for a strong public health care, stopping the privatization of our health care system, respecting the principles and provisions of the Canada Health Act, and demanding strong leadership for the 2014 health care accord!

There’s something about those voicemail messages that I didn’t fit into today’s rally (3 minutes goes by so quickly) but I hope other people who heard those voicemail messages from the float heard the same thing I did. I received a large volume of calls from grandparents concerned about their children and grandchildren, parents concerned about their children and parents, adults concerned about their parents and grandparents, and siblings concerned about each other. It amazed me how many people called to say that their vote was a health care vote, not only because they want health care for themselves (which I appreciate too) but because they want health care for others. Several people even left messages about protecting health care for strangers because that’s what is right. I found this very touching. It says so much about the kind of members we have and about Ontarians in general.

The rally was a very positive experience. People brought important messages with them. Seeing all the Yellow Shirt Brigade from Niagara region was extremely inspirational. That community has come together to fight against the closing of ERs, the LHINs and their right to the highest quality of health care. They’re very committed to ensuring that their goal is achieved and I wish them the best of luck.

Hearing the voices of our members who called-in to the voicemail system was a good reminder of how important it was for us to be there. Having a chance to address the crowd and use your words and messages was not only exciting, but it was truly a privilege.

The provincial elections are just beginning. I know Ontario isn’t the only one and I’ll be paying attention to what’s happening across Canada. Strong pro-medicare premiers will make for a strong pro-medicare 2014 health care accord and a better medicare system for everyone. Let’s make everyone’s vote a health care vote!